Former President Barack Obama’s handling of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has been a major topic of debate, as even some of his allies have criticized him for not doing more to stop it.
A new Washington Post report offers an in-depth look at how Obama dealt with Russia’s efforts to help Donald Trump get elected president, and one former Obama administration official says that he is haunted by the administration’s failure to do more.
“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” the official told the Post. “I feel like we sort of choked.”
Michael McFaul, who served as the Obama administration’s ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, said that Obama’s decision to expel Russian diplomats from the United States and to level harsher sanctions against the country in December 2016 was far too small of an action given the scope of what the Russians had done.
“The punishment did not fit the crime,” he told the Post. “Russia violated our sovereignty, meddling in one of our most sacred acts as a democracy — electing our president. The Kremlin should have paid a much higher price for that attack. And U.S. policymakers now — both in the White House and Congress — should consider new actions to deter future Russian interventions.”
Another unnamed administration official, however, tells the Post that the administration figured that it could wait until after the election to level punishments against Russia because it had to concentrate its resources on making sure the Russians weren’t able to breach into electronic voting systems to alter vote totals.
“Our primary interest in August, September and October was to prevent them from doing the max they could do,” the official said. “We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures.”